Lauren Francisco is a member of Calvary Community Church in Hampton, Virginia. She served for a year with Mennonite Mission Network in South Africa and blogs regularly for The Mennonite’s website.
Touching back down at the JFK airport after living in South Africa for a year, I suddenly had anxiety. Would I forever chase the feeling of being needed? How will I pay the debts I’ve accumulated? Who can I partner with moving forward? I want to do more. I have to do more. Why am I here?
Thoughts rushing, soul full, body exhausted: in this moment I knew I had left a new home to return to an old one. These feelings of anxiety never dissipated. I tried getting back into a normal work groove, but my mind was elsewhere.
After five months of being back in the United States, I decided to return.
I hate the idea of touching a life, place or an environment and suddenly walking away without any follow up or plan moving forward. I refused to let that be me. There’s a song by Brooke Fraser entitled, “Albertine,” that I’ve always loved. It was not until recently that I really understood the meaning of this song. I listened to the song while soaring thousands of feet above the Atlantic Ocean. You can hear the heartbeat of thumping guitar and her angelic voice singing, “Now that I have seen, I am responsible. Faith without deeds is dead. Now that I have held you in my own arms, I cannot let go ‘til you are… And I am on a plane across a distant sea, but I carry you in me…and the dust on, the dust on, the dust on my feet, Rwanda.”
I secretly returned to South Africa, not telling a soul of my arrival. No agenda, no plans; just dreams and intentions of building relationship. My heart fell into my gut as I walked down the dirt path, making my way into the dusty corridor that led to the classrooms of Eastwood Primary School in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal. Arriving with just the clothes on my back and suitcases full of pencils, sharpeners, and letters, I turned the corner and heard screams of joy. Suddenly, heads poked out from the learners’ doors. A teacher I had become great friends with dropped her jaw and opened her arms, shaking in disbelief. This is what I live for!
Normally you would never catch me walking around Eastwood without a fan and my guitar, but this time, I came empty. All of my luggage space was used for gifts, so I came with just my voice. All I could hear from the balconies was a call of, “Sing, Miss!” Where I usually would have sweaty palms and intense anxiety, calmness came upon me, and I immediately began singing, “God of Wonders, beyond our galaxy…”
I heard claps on my right, stomps on my left. We were a choir, one voice, a family of God’s children.
This was the first time in the entirety of my life where I decided to sing without my guitar. The immense love I have for all 1,400 of the children at this school surprises even me at times. No matter the cost, fight, or challenge, I will find my way to them yearly.
After making my way to all 40 classrooms, I ended my visit with the head principal. My church in Hampton, Virginia, gave me the go ahead to work on forming a long-term partnership with the school. During my time, I spent time studying, learning, and assisting with efforts to address the low literacy rate in the area (33 percent of students are unable to read or write). With the principal, we decided to create remedial classrooms to pinpoint learners who need extra assistance. The first classroom will launch in January 2018 and will serve as a focus group. I am currently campaigning and finding funding for this initiative. If academic performances and scores improve drastically, we will eventually roll out this program for each grade.